Some years back, I worked in an advertising agency as a copywriter, coming up with ideas to sell products. My agency won a new piece of business, Qantas airlines of Australia. We did a piece of work to gain the business, but as usually happens when the work is assigned, that initial attempt is put aside and the real work begins. That doesn't mean anything is wrong with the first piece, it simply means that when something as complex as an airline is exposed to you in its full splendour, the original piece of work might look rather naive. We sold Qantas initially on kangaroos - Hop Over, Fares Dinkum - that kind of thing. Qantas said we had better hop over and have a shuftie for ourselves. Fair dinkum.
I once wrote my Mum a postcard from a shoot in Jamaica where I was lying on a beach watching a director film my commercial. In the postcard I said the Careers Advisory Board at Leeds University had never said it would be like this. Imagine my joy this time to find myself on board a 747 streaking across the Indian Ocean with my art director Tony and his girlfriend Carol, also an art director on the business, drinking unlimited champagne in the First Class cabin. This is presumably how David Frost feels every day.
Arriving in Australia is a very odd experience. It seems quite like England in a way. The roads look similar. They all drive on the left in Morris Oxfords and the like with a sprinkling of large American cars and the people speak the same language, sort of. We checked into a massive hotel in downtown Sydney and went to our rooms. Mind you, to confuse the long distance traveller even more, it was odd to see John Cleese checking out as we checked in. It was very tempting to do what a friend of mine did when first arriving in London from Grimsby. She didn't know anyone and was walking down Portland Place when she saw a familiar face. "Hello Des," she said eagerly. Des O'Connor looked on in polite amazement. I think he said hello back again. But seeing John Cleese in Australia made it somehow all seem that little bit more familiar. It's always deceptive when they speak the same language. It would be so helpful if Americans spoke Portuguese, say. Then at least you'd recognise they were foreigners.
This easy apparent familiarity with life back home continued for the next two days as it turned out that Qantas wanted us to attend meeting after meeting to put us in the picture of what the airline operation was really like. It seemed to us rather a waste of time to have flown twelve thousand miles to learn at first hand what could have been picked up by skimming through a few documents on our return. We asked permission to skip the lectures and be allowed to drive around a bit to see what Australia was like, as we would have to be selling the place to our potential customers. Show us the sizzle not the sausage, as it were. They let us off the leash.
Seven o'clock the next morning saw us cruising through Sydney's western suburbs in a massive hired American Ford Falcon. The idea was to get as much of the flavour of this sub-Californian lifestyle as possible. You see, over the first few days our initial impressions of an England on the other side of the world had shifted from Morris Cowley England to seeing the place stuck in the sixties time warp of Beach Boys California. Yet still comfortingly with a dash of England in the fifties. Woolworth wasn't 'Woolworth' but the product of some smart postwar operator's legal shenanigans, having gained the rights to the name and exact logo style when he discovered that the real Woolworth didn't extend their corporate rights to the Antipodes. It looks like Woollies used to look when I was a kid back home in York- shire. Rows of brown wooden counters burst with sweets. Ladies in long patterned dresses meander about looking for ice trays and barbecue forks. There was none of that abrasive hard sell that we had come to know Woolworth's for. In the seventies, Peter Marsh and his advertising agency had successfully managed to knock the woolliness out of them and concentrate heavily on the worth end of things.
California was made manifest in the rows and rows and rows ... and rows of used car lots along the Parramatta Road. It was along this hymn to commercialism that we found ourselves that first liberated morning driving like escaped convicts in the opposite direction to the Sydney rush hour. And hymn by the by is no inappropriate word here, as Holden once sold their cars with a priest saying he believed there was no better deal. It was rumoured that Ford of Australia were after the Pope to challenge that claim in another ad. He wasn't available for comment. No, the Parramatta Road made Warren Street in London look like Binns Road in Liverpool, home of Dinky Toys. Twenty miles of used car lots all screaming for your attention on the way to Australia's own Liverpool, capital of the western suburbs. Where every dream home is a heartache. Every house in Liverpool stands in its own garden. There are no terraces, no backyards, no outside toilets. Just bungalows. Rows and rows of them too. If you're rich, it's made of stone. If you're poor, chipboard. It seems everyone is allocated the same amount of land and it's up to your bank account what you make of it.
Three hours later we were cruising up into the Blue Mountains. This is the settlers defence line against the Bush. When you look at a map of Australia and realise they have only civilised the very edge of one corner of it, this land takes on another character all together. The thin facade of culture that is the Sydney Opera House where you're more likely to hear Bert Kaempfert than Otto Klemperer becomes totally transparent. No wonder they hate the aborigines. They have been making their lifestyle work for centuries. Unlike Ayers Rock and the Great Barrier Reef, the Aussies built their two national monuments side by side. Yes the Opera House is slap bang next to the Harbour Bridge, as if for comfort and reassurance. With all that space to go at, you would think they could have spread them out a bit.
The Blue Mountains on the other hand are a natural marvel that is truly something to behold. There is a feeling or Wagnerian awe as you climb up into this place where heaven and earth meet. The light is blue and green. The clouds seem to hang below you in the valleys. When Peter Weir chose panpipe music for Picnic at Hanging Rock, he had obviously been up here an heard it first hand. There is something about this mountain range that comes like a warning. It says, "I am here to protect you. Don't ask why, just go back." Cecil B DeMille could have had Charlton Heston ambling down these slopes with his tablets of stone. As if to add to the sense of closeness to heaven, on the roadside near Katoomba at the top is an old folk's retirement home and spa The Majestic Hydro. Truly God's waiting room. We drove in to have a drink and a wander.
The entrance lobby was full. Literally packed, not with people but with plastic armchairs all facing a massive stone fireplace that could have come straight from Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu. It was as if we had entered a chamber where every evening two hundred mountain sages would gather to re-state the glories of their own lives and consider the wrong doings of those below on the bare-bottomed coast. None of these sages however were in view at this time apart from one gentleman, supported between two tired looking nurses, being assisted in his snail like progress along the threadbare carpet down one of the long uneven corridors that fanned out from the lobby. We had a beer at the bar, which was decorated like a Greyhound coach in gold fluting. Through from the bar was a huge ballroom with the most repulsive lights I had ever seen. Massive orange glass cones hung suspended from black wrought iron brackets with gypsy dancers entwined within the flex. Red tassels and pompoms graced the nether reaches of these constructions. What on earth had persuaded someone to lug these monstrosities all the way up here? Or had they been created by the tenants themselves on the long winter evenings? In summer, did the old couples slowly shuffle round the floor as a ghostly jazz band played In The Mood in an easily accommodated waltz time? We would never see it. There was no action today. We climbed back in the Falcon and began the descent into the vast orange desert away from the hills.
We were making for some of the old gold mining towns beyond Bathurst, places with romantic names like Sofala and Hill End. Carol had managed to get the address of a farm from an art director in Sydney as a place he had once stayed in an attempt to get away from a particularly draining bout with a soap powder client. He had advised us to watch out for the mine shafts along the roadside. Apparently no one had bothered to cover them over and the warning signs had long since dropped off and blown away. What apparently could seem like an overgrown depression could turn out to be a four hundred foot drop straight down. When told about this in a bar in Sydney we had stood in open-mouthed amazement and thought perhaps he was having a little fun with us Poms. But no. There they were, perhaps a little more visible than he'd explained, but we were now actively on the look out for these holes that lead to a death that no one would ever hear about.
The road had deteriorated into a dust track with occasional stretches of pave laid in two tracks for the wheels. We were making our way up the side of a series of gentle arid hillsides where the road was cut into the hill and the drop below was guarded against by rope slung between wooden poles hammered into the ground. The Falcon was beginning to make heavy weather of it and the driving necessitated a careful eye kept on the water gauge. The afternoon sun was baking the cloud of dust we were throwing up onto the back of the car. It was impossible to see anything out of the rear window. We had the air conditioning on full blast just to breathe. Once we stopped to get a rag out to wipe the dust off the window and it was almost like a form of torture getting into the searing heat outside from the icebox temperature inside. After a while we left the back window dusted up.
On one long flat strip of dust, a pickup truck roared by and sped off into the distance driving on the wrong side of the road. He must have been doing over sixty and soon disappeared in a yellow cloud. I began to think a dust wiper on the screen would help. In fact why didn't some enterprising Aussie invent one? The windscreen wipers applied by mistake had turned the windscreen into a streaky mess that only gave visibility through the semi circle underneath their path. I was driving now with my right shoulder against the door to get a good look in the rear view door mirror and also to peer underneath the smears on the screen. In this unprepared condition, we arrived in Sofala.
1892 must have been one hell of a great night out. Drunks staggering in through the doors, brandishing giant yellow nuggets only to be knocked on the head and thrown out in the street by the saloon keepers. There is still a tradition in Australian pubs of the Swill Out where a landlord who doubtless needed to keep his pub clear of all manner of rubbish turns a hose on the clientele at closing time. The pub in Sofala is The Royal Hotel. They're all called hotels by the way, and some long-lost patriotic fervour probably named most of them The Royal. This one was empty except for a pool table and two surly men in shorts and vests banging the balls about with as much talent as Eddie Charlton in his cot. We had a beer each, little realising that this would do little for us but make us thirstier for the next one. In a beer-drinking nation like Australia I would have expected them to drink it in pints at least, litres more likely. But no. It comes in sherry schooner type glasses. The regular drinker keeps the barman occupied all the time filling his glass. No wonder most bar men have muscles like Lou Ferrigno. No one spoke to us in the bar. We might as well have been from outer space. They certainly looked at us as if we were. Carol's see-through cotton dress came in for a lot of long hard lip-wetting stares though. Maybe they were just waiting to finish their game of pool to drag her out the back of the bar. As we drove away I could swear I heard them yell "Pommy bastards" from the front porch. They stood and watched as we took the road to Hill End.
By now the sun was on its way to the horizon. The grey gum trees were beginning to cast long shadows across the road. One particularly dark shadow slithered off into the tall dusty grass on the side of the road. Of course. There would be snakes out here, probably poisonous too. I think it was round about this time that we began to feel that this junket out into the Bush was perhaps not as well prepared as it might have been. The car was up near boiling again. The windows were caked a quarter of an inch thick with dust and the light was slowly beginning to be less intense. The desert off beyond the gum trees was beginning to glow with fantastic oranges and reds sparkling in the sand. We began to climb again, the road now a simple dirt track cut into the hillside without even the protection afforded by the rope linking. At the top of the hill was appropriately enough, Hill End.
In the gold rush, this had been an even bigger town than Sofala. It had boasted a Chinese laundry, stables, blacksmiths, two whorehouses and several hotels. Now all there was was another Royal Hotel and a general store with a petrol pump and some distant shacks. We decided we'd buy some food in the store and barbecue it at the farm, which the storekeeper told us, was three miles out of town up a dirt road. We also filled up the car with petrol. Three miles down the road we found Mrs. Miller's farm. It had a billabong, which is a stagnant, and brackish man made lake, a farmhouse with a corral out the back and a bunkhouse. That is, a house, full of bunks. It had been made from sections of corrugated iron, hastily nailed over an inner structure of chipboard. The toilet was a wooden shed next to it. There was a rusting old cold-water tank next to it and a warning from Mrs. Miller about snakes and spiders. Apparently there are two sorts of snakes out there. The Aussies with typical sang froid call them the Black Snake and the Brown Snake. Oddly enough though, they speak of them with a certain fond familiarity. The Millers' two youngest - incredibly two year old twins - conceived for the comfort of Mr. Miller's old age, he being seventy-two and riddled with cancer - had both been bitten by the Black Snake. "That blighter is only vicious if riled. He'll bite yer, but if you lie still and help comes, you'll be all right. Watch out for the brown feller though. He'll go for yer and I'm afraid one bite from him and you're finished." One of the worst things you can do it seems is drive over one. It flicks them up under the car and they twirl themselves round the chassis members. Sometimes they hang on for hours, which is why one woman was bitten and dropped dead in the middle of Bathurst one afternoon after she had hit one earlier in the day in her car.
Stepping cautiously round patches of grass we began to collect logs to make our barbecue. Tony stripped to the waist and began chopping them up. Gum tree is, hardly surprisingly, tough and rubbery to chop. After an hour though, we had enough for the fire. Except we'd come over all thirsty again. It was decided that a trip back down to Hill End was called for. Get a few beers down us and perhaps bring some Australian wine back for dinner. We all got back in the car and set off down the dirt road back to Hill End. Going this way, the road ran through gum trees along a ridge with a hill to our left and a ditch beside the built up road. On the other side, the hill sloped away leading to a valley several hundred feet below. Gum trees sprouted from the ground all over. The sun was chasing us behind them flickering golden orange as in a cloud of dust we pulled up outside The Royal Hotel. Another veranda, another wrought iron balcony another bar room tiled from daydo rail to floor in serviceable easily hosed green tiling. And more schooners of beer.
After a while the locals began to loosen up. One lad on a clapped out motorbike held together with baling wire decided to show off for Carol's benefit no doubt doing wheelies up and down the road outside. His companions were too young to drink, but it seemed as if they already had the habit of hanging around bars and it was only a matter of time before they were inside too. After one spectacular display our Evel Knievel fell off his machine and dragged its twisted handlebars back to the veranda to straighten them out with more wire. It was the night of Ali's fifteen round pummeling with Leon Spinks in Las Vegas and two blokes in their thirties who turned out to be twins wearing matching shorts and sawn-off sleeve sweat shirts towered over us and inquired whether we would like to "come back home and watch the fight on TV with Ma." Politely we declined as we said we were having a barbie with Mrs. Miller. Tony changed the subject and asked if they had seen any Kangaroos round there. Silly question really. Like asking a Londoner is he'd seen any Beefeaters walking down the street. But as luck would have it one of the bike rider's young mates told us that he's just seen a group of 'roos and some Joeys' up the street and if we went up the road now we'd see them. Great. Kangaroos at last. We'd not seen a single one yet. Not even in the Melbourne zoo where we were told that they all been clubbed to death a week before by some young thugs who climbed the fence one night with baseball bats. Before we left I bought a couple of bottles of red wine and had the corks drawn as we didn't have a bottle opener.
Carol took the wheel of the car as she thought that by now Tony and I had probably had enough to drink. She reversed into the street and was trying to put the gearshift into drive. Down the street some way a pickup truck approached. Carol wrestled with the gearshift. The truck kept on coming. I thought it's going to hit us. Surely it will stop. Then in slow motion Carol got the car into gear and - I don't believe this, he really is going to hit us - the truck slammed into us, doing about fifteen miles an hour. There was an almighty crunching noise, which brought all the locals out of The Royal Hotel. Dazed I got out of the back of the Falcon and inspected the damage. Not very much actually, a puckered front wing and a popped open bonnet. I walked over to the pickup truck and opened the door. The driver fell out into the road and lay on the ground dead drunk. Well this is where you learn it's a bad idea being a stranger in a strange land. We of course were in the wrong. Very soon you could hear voices in the crowd all round us muttering things like "They were blocking the road". "Eddie drives down here every night at this time". "People should know better". I looked at Eddie's truck which was impossible to tell whether had been damaged recently and said. "Are you all right Eddie? Good. I'm sorry we were blocking the road. "Blocking the road the Pommy bastards, were" was all he said. Suddenly all our chums from the bar, even Evel seemed evil. There were snarls and cries of "Good riddance. Get back to where you come from."
Carol was shaken by the episode and I, now bright-eyed and feeling sober, took the wheel again. I whisked us back up the perilous three-mile dirt road to the farm in no time, it seemed. "Let's get on with the barbie then" Carol said. I said I'd get the wine from the car. And there it was, all over the floor. The jolt or the journey had dislodged the corks and it had all emptied out into the carpet. Great. "OK", I said, "I'll go back and get some more." So I got back in the car and swung it round in the gloom in a cloud of dust. "Hang on", said Carol. "I'll just get the bags out of the boot. She got her bag and Tony's out and slammed the boot shut. I roared off down the dirt road again; keen to make up for lost time.
Well I was beginning to feel as if I were in a film. The sun was down behind the gum trees and the car was drifting easily round the bends in the road with which I felt so familiar by now. I imagined the barbecue well alight and I also thought of the locals in the Royal Hotel. Was anybody there still? Was the Ali fight underway and had they all adjourned back to Ma's? Then it happened. I was travelling way too fast when I dabbed the brakes coming up to a right hand turn and ...nothing happened. The car carried straight on and left the road. Next thing I knew I was staring down the length of the bonnet with the car nose down in the ditch between the hillside and the road. I was held in place by my seat belt - clunk click every trip. Oh dear. I've come off the road, I said to myself. I'll start the engine up and back it up. Rrrrrr, rrrrr, rrr, r.... r...r, .... went the engine getting slower and deeper sounding with each turn of the ignition key. Then nothing. Just the ticking of hot metal. In a car full of petrol. Jesus Christ. This could blow up. I struggled with my seat belt - you do in emergencies. You can snap it off a thousand times when it doesn't matter, but when it does matter the damn thing sticks and you fumble. I swing open the door and rolled into the road. I sprang to my feet and ran a hundred yards down the road waiting for the explosion. Nothing. Just the ticking of hot metal and the chirrup of grasshoppers. The gum trees cast long shadows across the road. The full moon had come out and it seemed strangely like daylight, the wrecked car oddly out of place in this natural wilderness. And what a wreck it was. The whole front end had been pushed in by the impact with the ditch. The rrrrr... rrrrr... sounds had been the fan boring a hole into the rear of the radiator which had been shoved up against the engine block. Well what am I going to do now, I mused? Better get back to the farm and sort it out from there. I set off back up the road. After a hundred yards I thought...cameras. My camera was in the car. I returned and got it out of the glove box. Entering the car afresh from the warm evening air, the smell hit me. The wine in the carpet made it smell as if there had been a party going on in there. And all over the car were packets of biscuits we had been nibbling all day, adding to the scene of debauchery. I grabbed the biscuits and like a man in a strange full moon ritual threw them as far from the car as I could into the trees in all directions. I set off again, and then remembered my bag in the boot. I retrieved it and set off back up the track.
I must have driven further than I thought because at every rise I expected to look down into the valley where the farm lay. But no, every rise led to another, then to another bend and all along the dirt road there were shadows and every one could have started to slither away. It was in a very heightened sense of awareness that I finally crested the valley of Mrs. Miller's farm, where there was no sign of a barbecue. Tony and Carol had eaten and gone to bed. I dropped my bag in the entrance and Tony looked out of the window. "Do you want the good news or the bad news?" I said. "The good news is I'm alive. The bad news is the car is a right off".
It was a fitful night's sleep that followed. Tony had eaten my steak thinking I'd gone to the pub for a drink and eaten there. It had taken that long to walk back. In the middle of the night I thought I heard an intruder and leapt from my bunk only to confront Carol stark naked in the hallway. Unable to sleep, we both expected the bunkhouse to be under siege from baseball bat toting locals determined to beat some sense into the Pommy Bastards for messing with Eddie and his truck. Eventually and noisily dawn broke. Mrs. Miller's cockerel letting us know of its coming some hours in advance. I dressed and told Mrs. Miller what had happened. She laughed about it. "It's a tricky bend that, on the road. I know where you came off. Listen I know Bill the local copper pretty well. We'll straighten it out dearie." We all three got in Mrs. Miller's Holden estate and drove down to the wreck. Tony and I tried to pull the fan off but it was no use. Tony stayed with the car in case the police came there first and Mrs. Miller drove me to the police station in Hill End. Tony had an interesting wait. For the next few hours he kept finding biscuits in the trees all around the car. At least he got breakfast. Bill the copper was at the station. He said he'd already seen the car. He looked me in the eye and spoke to me in the clear tones people use when addressing a child, foreigner or other imbecile. "So I'm putting in the report that you hit the brakes and the car slid into the ditch. You were doing no more than thirty... all right?" "Well that's what actually did happen." "Listen sonny... I've seen enough accidents and I can tell when a car's being driven too fast and what with that smell in there I could imagine all kinds of things.... so I'll say this one last time... you hit the brakes and nothing happened. All right?" "That's right officer." "Good. That'll be the end of it then." "How are we going to get back to Sydney?" "That's none of my business. Just one thing son, come over here." He took me over to the window. His face was inches from mine. "You don't want any of that malarkey with Eddie's truck to come out do you? Just don't come back here. Ever." Gosh. Run out of town by the sheriff. It was just like the Wild West.
We drove back, collected Tony at the car and I waited all morning by Mrs. Millers' wind-up handle phone for Avis to call back. Mr. Miller sat in his chair by the window the sunlight etching his lined ruddy face. He started to speak without my asking and told me in one long monologue how he had won the farm in a poker game, then added to it over the years buying out small holdings here and running off rogue sheepherders there. It was a wonderful tale and if I had been more alert I would have written it down. I don't know if he had told it before but I felt privileged to hear it. He knew the end was near and he had no one to hand it on to. His children were too young, his wife too tired and his other child had been killed in the war in the Australian navy. It must have seemed as if all his efforts had been in vain.
At three in the afternoon the Avis tow truck appeared across the other side of the billabong where we had passed a large part of the day. It was like the relief of Mafeking. He towed the car out of the ditch, disconnected the transmission and slung the car from a hook on the back of the truck. We all got in the cab and bumped back down through Hill End and Sofala to Bathurst. At the Avis office there were a few questions and some forms to fill in, then they gave us an identical Ford Falcon to play with. Well no, it was beige instead of green. This time we quietly trundled over the Blue Mountains and tiptoed down the Parramatta Road back into Sydney where I sank into a bath and counted my blessings.
Another hundred yards along that road I would have gone off the other side and down the hill. Bumpety bumpety boom. I can see the car exploding every time I shut my eyes.
Antipodes: places on exactly opposite sides of the earth
Barbie: barbecue ("I'll throw some shrimp on the barbie")
Banana bender: a person from Queensland
Barrack: to cheer on (football team etc.)
Beaut, beauty: great, fantastic
Billabong: an ox-bow river or watering hole
Billy: large tin can used to boil water over a campfire for tea
Bloke: man, guy
Bloody: very (bloody hard yakka)
Bloody oath!: that's certainly true
Bludger: lazy person, layabout, somebody who always relies on other people to do things or lend him things
Blue: fight ("he was having a blue with his wife")
Bluey: pack, equipment, traffic ticket
Bonzer: great, ripper
Boogie board: a hybrid, half-sized surf board
Boomer: a large male kangaroo
Buckley's, Buckley's chance: no chance ("New Zealand stands Buckley's of beating Australia at football")
Bush: the hinterland, the Outback, anywhere that isn't in town
Chook: a chicken
Cockroach: a person from New South Wales
Come a gutser: make a bad mistake, have an accident
Corroboree: an aboriginal dance festival
Cozzy: swimming costume
Crook: sick, or badly made
Crow eater: a person from South Australia
Dag: a funny person, goof
Digger: a soldier
Dill: an idiot
Dinkum, fair dinkum: true, real, genuine ("I'm a dinkum Aussie"; "is he fair dinkum?")
Dinky-di: the real thing, genuine
Docket: a bill, receipt
Dole bludger: Somebody on social assistance when unjustified
Drongo: a dope, stupid person
Drum: information, tip-off ("I'll give you the drum")
Earbashing: nagging, non-stop chatter
Fair go: a chance ("give a bloke a fair go")
Footy: Australian Rules football
Fossicking: searching, rummaging ("fossicking through the kitchen drawers")
Galah: the gem of Australia! Considered a pest in Australia, poor thing.
Garbo, garbologist: municipal garbage collector
Give it a burl: try it, have a go
Good oil: useful information, a good idea
Good on you: good for you, well done
Icy pole: popsicle, lollypop
J Jackaroo: a male station hand (a station is a big farm/grazing property)
Jillaroo: a female station hand
Joey: baby kangaroo
Knock: to criticise
Knocker: somebody who criticizes
Lob, lob in: drop in to see someone ("the rellies have lobbed")
Lucky Country, The: Australia, where else?
Mate: buddy, friend
Mexican: a person from south of the (Queensland) border
Never Never: the Outback, centre of Australia
No-hoper: somebody who'll never do well
Not the full quid: not bright intellectually
Ocker: an unsophisticated person
Offsider: an assistant, helper
O.S.: overseas ("he's gone O.S.")
Pom, pommy: an Englishman
Postie: postman, mailman
Reckon!: you bet! Absolutely!
Rellie: family relative
Ridgy-didge: original, genuine
Right: okay ("she'll be right, mate")
Ripper: great, fantastic
Rubbish: to criticize
Salvos, the: Salvation Army, bless them
Sandgroper: a person from Western Australia
Sanger: a sandwich
Shark biscuit: somebody new to surfing
Sheila: a woman
She'll be right: it'll turn out okay
Shout: turn to buy - a round of drinks usually ("it's your shout")
Sickie: day off sick from work (chuck a sickie = take the day off sick from work when you're perfectly healthy!)
Smoko: coffee break
Snag: a sausage
Spunk: a good looking person (of either sex)
Station: a big farm/grazing property
Stickybeak: nosy person
Strewth: exclamation, mild oath ("Strewth, that Chris is a bonzer bloke")
Strine: Australian slang and pronunciation
Surfies: people who go surfing - usually more often than they go to work!
Tall poppies: successful people
Taswegian: a person from Tasmania
Tee-up: to set up an appointment
Thongs: cheap rubber backless sandals
Tinny: small aluminium boat
Togs: swim suit
Too right!: definitely! True blue: patriotic Tucker: food
Tucker-bag: food bag
Ute: utility vehicle
Wobbly: excitable behaviour ("I complained about the food and the waiter threw a wobbly")
Wog: flu or trivial illness
Wowser: straight-laced person, prude, puritan, spoilsport
Yabber: talk (a lot)
Yakka: work (noun)
Yewy: u-turn in traffic ("chuck a yewy at the next traffic lights")
Yobbo: an uncouth person
Should you wish to visit...
A HISTORY OF SOFALA
Sofala was the second goldtown in Australian History and quickly the major centre of settlement for the western goldfields, was the scenic part of the Turon first described by Cox in his 1821 Journal. Thirty years later, in June, Sofala was born.
Owner and Leasee of that part of the land near the Turon was J B Richards, ex surveyor. Along the track to Mudgee at Two Mile Creek he possessed a comfortable cottage occupied by him on his infrequent visits and to be later used by distinguished visitors to the goldfields.
Richards happened to be on the spot when the drays and carts rumbled down the steep hill and the cradles were unloaded. He warned the diggers off, but, with an independence that had interesting possibilities, they took no notice. Green, as commissioner for Crown Lands, had had the same experience at Ophir. So Richards became the cool witness of its birth, and within a fortnight he saw the little valley crowded with carts and drays and the river lined with calico tents. Then he decided to make the best of a bad thing and he and William Suttor became the first suppliers of meat to the Turon field.
The town's location was due to a number of factors. It was geographically a more practical site than other parts of the Turon as, situated above the flood level of the river, was a small plain called the Flat. This was suitable for a business area. Additionally, it was beside where the old dray track from Bathurst to Mudgee forded the Turon. But probably the most compelling reason of all was that it was in the centre of what proved very quickly to be the 8 richest miles of the river.
By July its name had been decided - Sofala, a direct link with Ophir. Scholars throughout the ages had had their various theories about the location of the biblical city of Ophir. But the opinion of 19th century scholars more generally adopted was, that Soloman's fleet, after passing the straights of Babelmandel, held its course along the South East Coast of Africa, as far as that part of Portuguese East Africa called Sofala, celebrated for its rich mines of gold and silver. So Sofala if became.
The first gold discovery at Sofala was made by two men named Lester and Raffael. This occurred at Golden Point æ of a mile east of the village three weeks after the Ophir strike in 1851. Miners and their families converged on the Turon River from the still notorious Razorback Mountain from the Mudgee roadway.
The richest claim was made at the junction of Big Oakey Creek and the Turon River. A man named Crosswell owned it and he made the discovery when he sheltered in a cave to escape a severe storm. Gold was protruding out of the ground just inside the entrance. A one hundred and twenty ounce nugget was found here.
Three hundred ounces was discovered in the first wash at McCann's claim west of the village.
Another claim also west of the village at Spring Creek produced a nugget so big that if it had been as big at one end as it was the other four men could not lift it. This nugget was discovered by some Chinamen and a Dr. Marc Howe, also a Chinaman. It was stated later that it had been broken up and shipped home to China.
The richest stretch of soil was from Pennyweight Creek east of Sofala, to a few miles west of the village.
By 1866 Sofala had two hotels ( the Sofala Inn and the Barley Mow) as well as several 'public houses'. There were three churches, two private and two denominational schools, a court of petty sessions, a hospital and post and telegraph offices. For many years, until the rise of Hill End, Sofala and Tamaroora were regarded as the main gold towns of the region. Although gold production declined it lasted longer than in many other places. As late as 1899 a company launched a dredge on the Turon which operated successfully for some time, gathering pay dirt from the river bottom.
In the 20th century the population dwindled. The vicinity has pastoral activities but not to an extent that could support a large town. However, Sofala survived because of its situation at the junction of the roads to Ilford and Hill End and through increasing interest in it by tourists and weekend visitors. Today is one of the most popular places in the Bathurst area.
Some Old Buildings of Sofala
Established in 1862, the Royal is a typical example of the early goldfields hotel. Mrs Eileen Farrell is the present licencee. The Royal Hotel was closed for twelve months in 1940, but was re-opened when Toohey's Brewery issued a licence to the late Fred Smith. Today the hotel offers accommodation, icy cold beer, and a convivial atmosphere. Many original fixtures adorn the rooms and bar area.
This buliding dates from the 1860's and is typical of early weatherboard construction, following the slope of the land towards the street at the rear.
Oddfellow's Hall (Private Residence)
The Oddfellow's Friendly Society had a strong lodge at Sofala and organised social and sporting events for the miners and townsfolk. Cricket matches and other events were often followed by suppers and dances, fulfilling many of the social needs of the villagers.
Sweet Shop (Private Residence)
The low weatherboard construction is typical of early cottages on the goldfields. The verandah encroaches onto the present-day roadway, illustrating the narrowness of the roads of a century ago.
Typical small brick commercial premises
Post Office Building (Private Residence)
Built in 1879 the building housed the Sofala Post Office until 1989. The two storey builing is typical of the 1870's Public Building design , as is the Court House.
Old Cottages (Private Residences)
Typical old cottages of the era-weatherboard constuction, built on stumps with low entrances and ceilings by today's standards.
A good example of slab timber construction.
Police Station (Private Residence)
Originally built in 1857, being extensively remodeled in 1862 bricks supplied from the local brick kiln and now privately owned since the 1950's.
The Catholic Convent
It was opened in 1872 and closed as a convent in 1909, and was closed as a church as recently as 1970.
Gas Hotel (Private Residence)
One of the first two licensed premises in Sofala. Typically, the old hotel is built on stumps which have sunk or rotted, giving the building a drunken look, nine of the windows being square. The low doorways and rear section indicate that people in the 1850's were of a smaller stature than today.
Gold Commissioner's Residence
Sadly, this lovely old two storey timber residence is in disrepair. However it is easy to imagine the building in its prime, with its front and rear verandahs and balconies. The large open fireplace in the middle of the ground floor with the brick chimney extending through the first floor would have been a very welcome central heating system during the cold Sofala winter days.
Built in 1874, the Court House became the Sofala Hospital in 1934, incorporating Sofala morgue. The hospital closed in the early 1960's, but today still houses the Community Health Centre. The building is situated above and adjacent to many goldminer's tunnels.
Another building dating from the early days and boasting a varied history. The cafe started as a part of a blacksmith's shop, later becoming a service station and finally today, a fine licensed restaurant.
Bank of NSW
Constructed in the 1870's this was Sofala's only bank. Incorporated in the bank was the manager's residence in the top floor.
Hyland's Hotel (Private Residence)
Situated next to the Sofala Souvenir Shop and built on the site of the Globe Hotel, one of the two original licensed premises in Sofala. The building retains its original cellar, where the kitchen was located. Meals were delivered to the dining room by means of a "dumb waiter". The original wooden shingles can be seen under the more modern roofing iron.
Sofala Souvenir Shop
Gold samples can be purchased here along with meals, cold drinks and souvenirs. You can also organise a gold fosicking expedition.
The General Store in the main street of Sofala
Sofala (and Wattle Flat)
Fascinating and well preserved historic gold mining town
Of all the old gold mining towns in New South Wales Sofala is one of the most interesting and unusual. While hardly comparable with Hill End, which is 35 km further on and much more carefully preserved, Sofala is a village with an authentic old world charm. In essence its nothing more than two streets which have no formal construction and no curbing and guttering and yet which can legitimately claim to be 'Australia's oldest surviving gold town'.
Sofala is located 245 km north west of Sydney and 45 km north of Bathurst in the Turon River valley. It came into existence as a direct result of the goldrush which had been precipitated when Edward Hargraves discovered gold at Summerhill Creek on 12 February, 1851. By June that year a tent city spread across the valley and both the Royal Hotel and a General Store were built in 1851. By 25 June more than 200 ounces of gold taken from the Turon Valley had been sold in Bathurst.
The rush was extraordinary. When the local landowner realised he would never move the miners off his land he became a butcher and started selling mutton.
In November, 1851 a travelling journalist could report: 'For the most part, Sofala presents to the spectator a strange jumble of tents of every possible shape: canvas, calico, slab and bark huts, bough gunyahs and nondescripts. Among the medley, two circuses are conspicuous. Stores of every possible description and containing varieties of merchandise are everywhere, embellished with placards announcing the best gold prices available. Shoe makers and blacksmith establishments boasting a large number of visitors.'
The goldfield was short-lived with the population peaking at 10,000 in September and dropping to 5,000 by Christmas. It was a ramshackle temporary town with dozens of pubs and, at its height, an estimated 500 illegal sly grog shops.
In 1852 there was a brief altercation between miners and police over mining licenses but it did not amount to outright rebellion. The miners caved in and the license fees (30 shillings per month) were retained.
By 1853 visitors were describing the town as little more than 'wood huts or as they term them shingle, weatherboard, houses and tents. There were many tents scattered along the river.'
The fortune of the town was all too brief. By May 1854 there were less than 500 diggers on the field and by 1855, with new gold discoveries occurring at Wattle Flat, Sofala was in decline.
By 1856 there were only 325 males and 203 females living in bark huts and working the goldfields in Sofala. Even though the town was beginning to reduce in importance the goldrush had established a substantial infrastructure.
In 1866 a traveller described the town as 'There was a post and money order office, a telegraph office, a hospital, court of petty sessions, district court, police camp, gold commissioner's camp, three churches (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Wesleyan), two denominational and five private schools, two hotels (the Sofala Inn and the Barley Mow), a number of public houses and several extensive stores. There was a booking office at the Barley Mow for Cobb & Co., where coaches could be caught for Bathurst, Orange, Lambing Flat and Forbes. There are branches of the Savings Bank and Australia Mutual Provident Society in the township.'
By the 1871 census the total population of the town was 644 of whom 81 were Chinese. While mining was still central to the success of the town it is true that the miners were covering a greater area and finding smaller deposits.
Between 1899 and 1914 dredges were brought to the valley. Their success was limited. At one point (it only lasted for two years) the Sofala Gold Dredging Co. treated 18,000 cubic yards of wash which yielded 84 ounces of gold.
The history of the town in the twentieth century is one of constant decline as the gold either runs out or becomes increasingly hard to extract. In 1948 all gold mining in the district finished. It had lasted for 92 years.
Want to give it a try, matey?
Farm & Eco Holidays
319 Hill End Rd Sofala NSW 2795
Telephone: (02) 6337 7077
Web site: http://www.countryholidays.net
Lodges & Chalets
94 Bowen St
Sofala NSW 2795
Telephone: (02) 6337 7144
Camping & Other
Ryder Homestead Quality Country Accommodation
130 Thompson St Wattle Flat
Sofala NSW 2795
Telephone: (02) 6337 7171
Facsimile: (02) 9770 4173
42 Denison St
Sofala NSW 2795
Telephone: (02) 6337 7053
Or pop in to the Hotel Hydro Majestic, Blue Mountains.
Little seems to have changed.
However...you could be eating lobsters here.
Doyle's On The Beach, Watson's Bay, Sydney
Where the view from the verandah... ...looks like this...
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